The Business Rusch: The Writer You Want To Be

Business Rusch free nonfiction On Writing

This past week, my husband writer Dean Wesley Smith tilted at a windmill and decided to define terms in this new world of publishing.  He described self-published writers as writers who published books by themselves without starting a press to do it. (In other words, if you saw the book on Amazon, you’d see: The Story by Writer A. Published by Writer A.)

He defined indie publishers as writers who have started a press to publish their work and maybe the work of others. (In other words, if you saw the book on Amazon, you’d see: The Story by Writer A. Published by Some Press.)

Specialty presses, according to Dean, publish high-quality often limited-edition books, and have been around forever.  He defined small presses as “a term used in the larger world of publishing to define a publisher, either an indie or a specialty publisher, who has gross sales under a certain figure. That figure tends to be around 50 million dollars. Or less than ten titles per year.”

Then he defines the publishing industry that we used to know—those big multinational corporations—as traditional publishing. I like those terms as well, and agree with what he said in the piece.

Why do I say he is tilting at windmills? Because writers need something to argue about and so do publishers. Right now, independent presses that have been around for years are angry at the “co-opting” of the term “indie” by “self-published” writers who “have no idea what they’re doing.”

Actually, the real problem that those long-term independent presses have is that they’re no longer special. Back when it was hard to get a book published outside of the traditional publishing venues, the independent press provided an essential service. It rescued all kinds of low-selling books from obscurity, making certain that they at least got the critical recognition that they deserved.

Now that publishing has become easier (note that I did not say easy. It’s not easy publishing anything, your own work or someone else’s), the old independent presses have lost a lot of cache. Some have fantastic reputations and to be published by them is a complete honor in and of itself.  As long as those presses continue to have a consistent, strong editorial vision, they’ll remain important.

But they’ll have to share the name “indie” with a whole bunch of up-and-coming presses, some run by writers, others run by brand-new publishers who see a new way of publishing books that they believe should be in the marketplace.

In an area where there’s been no competition, the arrival of competitors is threatening. But it’s something that the older independent presses will have to get used to. (Some of them also need to change their business model; they’ll need to publish e-books, use POD on their trade titles, and stop warehousing the lower-end books. The indies will save money that way and guarantee their own survival.)

Dean has gotten some pushback on this piece, but not so much on his blog. People don’t argue with him in public, preferring to yell behind his back. (They do that to me too. I think that silly; if you have an argument, defend it.)

He and I were talking about some of that pushback the other night, and he said to me that he was no longer sure where he fit in his own categories. Together, we co-founded WMG Publishing, which has already grown to three employees (not us), plus a ton of support staff. We’re setting up an independent distribution company with a new employee coming on board in the spring. We have a third company that’s underway as well.

WMG is a corporation; it is not us. So we have publishing contracts with WMG, as will other writers as the years go on. Our anthology series, Fiction River, will contract with dozens of writers in the next year or so, but the contract will come from WMG which owns Fiction River.  And so on.

Dean said to me, with a bit of surprise, “I think I’m no longer a self-published writer.” So I pointed at his blog, and said, “You self-publish every single week.”

He looked a bit sheepish. “Oh, yeah,” he said. “That’s right.”

And the conversation between us ended. But I didn’t stop thinking about it. I took a good hard look at my own writing career and tried to figure out who I was and how I fit into all of those categories.

Here’s what’s going on as best as I can figure:

I publish novels through more than one traditional publishing company in the United States alone. If you add my novel publications overseas, I’m with dozens of traditional publishing companies with a variety of works.

I publish short stories through even more traditional publishing venues, from fiction magazines (online and in print) to anthologies all over the world.

I publish nonfiction through traditional publishing companies as well as online in several markets—more than I realized until I finally had to admit to myself that yes, I am a nonfiction writer too. Or rather, still. I never did quit writing nonfiction, even though it stopped making my full-time living in the 1980s.

I publish novels through the independent press. If we look at Dean’s definition of small press, then WMG has been one for  years. Its gross isn’t as high as that 50 million—yet—but that’ll come. There’s a lot of money to be made in publishing, which is why traditional publishers stay in business and why scammers have flocked to it in recent years.

I publish short stories through the independent press as well. I have had collections recently in specialty press venues (not WMG) and online with specialty presses.

I have returned to editing through a specialty press (and honestly, I did some freelance editing without getting credit for it for years. I would rescue editing projects).

And then I self-publish. I’ve done this blog every week since April of 2009. I occasionally put up a short story here. I’m flirting with podcasting, although at the moment that’s under WMG’s auspices, but who knows what tomorrow might bring? And I have a few projects I don’t discuss that I publish myself in venues I don’t talk about.

In other words, as a writer, I don’t just straddle two areas of publishing—traditional and indie—I straddle three. I’m a traditionally published writer who also publishes with indie presses and who manages to find time to self-publish a few things as well.

And you know what? I’ve always done that. I write what I write and publish it in the place where I hope/think it will thrive the best. I’m still stunned that I’m better off doing the business books as a blog first. I have sold more copies of the actual books (paper and e-book) than I ever would have sold through a traditional nonfiction press, especially with commercial press limitations on how long the book would be on the shelf.

Still, Dean’s attempt at a definition of the various kinds of publishing brings to mind something else: how writers seem to crave being labeled.  It used to be that we labeled ourselves as genre writers or nongenre writers, fiction writers or nonfiction writers. Only a few of us tried to cross those lines.

Now we have to add a description of how we’re published—and we fight over what that means.

Just today, a friend wrote to me about the fact that some writers whom she points to this blog won’t listen to anything that I have to say because everything I do “applies only to genre writers.”  I could find a lot to argue about with that statement.  For one thing, I’ll wager I have more mainstream publications than the people making that snobby judgment and I’ll wager I’ve been nominated for more literary (non-genre) awards than they have as well.

But that aside, the definitions—hastily made and held firmly—allow people to dismiss anything that doesn’t fit into their worldview.

It limits them more than it limits those of us who don’t need the definitions.

As I wrote this piece, I read an essay called “The Writing Life: Editors and Publisher” by John McPhee in The New Yorker. He has a lovely digression about the development of writers. He mentions that the New Yorker’s famous editor, William Shawn, “once remarked that he thought young writers were ‘taking longer to find out what kinds of writers they are…’”

The sentence made McPhee stop and ruminate, and it did the same for me. Here’s a bit of what McPhee wrote:

The writing impulse seeks its own level and isn’t always given a chance to find it. You can’t make up your mind in a Comp Lit class that you’re going to be a Russian novelist. Or even an American novelist. Or a poet. Young writers find out what kinds of writers they are by experiment.

He’s so right. And experiment takes a variety of forms. He talks a bit about the writing forms:

It is so easy to misjudge yourself and get stuck in the wrong genre. You avoid that, early on, by writing in every genre. If you are telling yourself you’re a poet, write poems. Write a lot of poems. If fewer than one work out, throw them all away; you’re not a poet. Maybe you’re a novelist. You won’t know until you have written several novels.

One of the best things Dean and I do as teachers is something we stumbled on accidentally. I got tired of using movies or television as examples of storytelling. I decided all of my students would work off the same fictional templates. So I would assign stories  (or novels) in a variety of genres for every class that I taught. Early on, one of the students realized that she was writing in the wrong genre; that she liked novels published in a genre she never read. She switched to that genre and now has a long (and successful) career there.

I had thought she was an aberration, but time proved me wrong. Many writers have no idea what genre they belong in because they read only one genre. They get stuck in that genre. Many writers have no idea what their strengths are.  We all know our weaknesses because critique focuses on problems, but most of us have no idea what we do well.

Now apply this same theory to Dean’s list above.  In the not-so-distant past, we all had only one road to publishing success. We had to go through traditional publishers. Some writers, like me, spread out our opportunities by writing nonfiction articles as well as fiction in the short story and novel form, but we still went the traditional route to publication.

Then the easy access to e-books and print-on-demand publishing happened, and our opportunities are endless. We can have a hybrid career like mine above or we can focus just on traditional or we can be 100% self-published. We can start our own publishing businesses or we can write for someone else’s business.

It’s really up to us.

The problem comes, in the words of William Shawn, in “finding out what kind of writer” we are. It takes a long time to figure out what interests us in subject matter; it might take longer to figure out where we’re the most comfortable publishing that subject matter.

So many writers default to traditional because that’s what they know. They’re like my former student, struggling in a system that they’re familiar with, but one which might not be a good fit for them.  Yet they’re unwilling to try anything new.

And by being unwilling to try something new, they’re limiting not just their choices, but what kind of writer they can be. Maybe they write quirky offbeat stuff that’s  doomed to small print runs in traditional houses, but would do extremely well in a self-publishing system. Afterall, those quirky books would stay in print, sell all over the world, and build an audience slowly, which is what quirky usually does.

Or maybe they have such a commercial book that they could be the next John Grisham if it finds the right home.  They might not have the opportunity to have a huge impact on the culture with everyone talking about the same book at the same time if they don’t try a traditional publishing route.

What writers have to remember in business is that they can just say no. So you think you’re the next John Grisham. You take your book to a traditional house and they only offer you a midlist contract, not the bestselling deal you want.  Say, “No thank you,” and walk away. Try a few other traditional houses and if they don’t fulfill your bestseller dream, then publish the book yourself. Or create an independent press to publish it for you, and build your own name.

Experiment, as McPhee urges. Or don’t take his word for it. This advice has been something writers have told each other for at least 400 years. In his essay, McPhee quotes Shakespeare contemporary, the poet and playwright Ben Jonson, who wrote, “Though a man be more prone and able for one kind of writing than another, he must exercise all.” McPhee adds, “Gender aside, I take that to be a message to all young writers.”

I think it’s a message for all writers. Exercise all of your options. Try new things. Don’t worry about how to define yourself. Defining yourself limits you.

Worry about whether or not you’ve given a different genre enough of a try or whether you’ve put the right amount of effort into figuring out how to properly publish that story you wrote.

If you look at what you’re doing bit by bit, piece by piece, you’ll probably end up with the same kind of hybrid that I have. A bit of traditional here, some indie there, a little self-publishing in the middle. You might end up with a preference—I know that Dean’s enjoying the hell out of his indie-publishing projects right now—and that preference might remain the same for the rest of  your career.

Or it might not. One other thing I experienced in the e-mail today is a short discussion of the future with two of WMG’s employees. We tabled a discussion of a new project until the spring because we simply do not have the time to do it.

By then, I joked, things might have changed dramatically. No joke, one of the employees said. Think how different things were last spring. She’s exactly right. I would never have been expecting to be sitting here 18 months ago. If you had asked me, I would have guessed that it would have taken five years to get to this position.

Things are changing very fast. Too fast for me to try everything, but I’m keeping an eye out. I believe what John McPhee, Ben Jonson and William Shawn were discussing; I think it takes a long time for a writer to figure out what kind of writer she is.

I think it might take a lifetime.

And I hope to remain passionately undefined through it all.

This business blog remains part of my writing journey. I’m so glad that you all are coming along with me on it, because one of the perks of self-publishing this blog is the flexibility it gives me. I can respond to your questions or the events of the day or I can do a long series on contracts if I feel like it. I love the interaction and feedback with you all.

The only thing that remains the same is that my writing must earn my living. That includes this blog. It needs to pay for itself. So if you’ve learned something or benefitted from the blog, please leave a tip on the way out.


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“The Business Rusch: “The Writer You Want To Be,” copyright © 2012 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.




31 thoughts on “The Business Rusch: The Writer You Want To Be

  1. Thanks for this post, Kris. For many years, I only read the Lord of the Rings trilogy. That was it. Then I became “daring” (LOL!) and decided it was time to move on to other fantasy stories…which I’ve read in abundance of the years.

    I’ve tried reading in other genres – just started up on science fiction (SF) again, recently, have read a few mysteries – some with a bit of fantasy thrown in – and have read some romance in the past. Wrong types of romance though, as the historicals don’t do it for me.

    But then I thought about some of the old romantic comedies I love – Bringing Up Baby, for instance, about a nutty Katharine Hepburn being in love with straight laced Cary Grant (the Baby is a leopard!) – and I knew this was something I could try to write. And I’m having a blast! I have 2 novelettes out, under a pen name, and am working on a 3rd.

    So glad I decided to stretch my horizons a bit. It’s so true that you never know what you like until you try…

  2. Great post!
    One of the changes I have seen with the growth of e-publishing is the merging of genres. When I write I don’t have any worries about what kind of story I’m supposed to write. I write the kind of story I want to write.
    But it does become hard once I go to post it to a site like Amazon which requires you slotting your story into a specific space/genre. How do we figure the best spot? I know Dean has written “Writers are awful at knowing what they write.”
    So while I’ve had no trouble defining myself, (I’m an indie publisher) I have a heck of a time narrowing down my book. It is based on Norse mythology, featuring a 15-year-old protagonist. So is it fantasy? Mythic fantasy? YA? Children’s fantasy? Any ideas on the best way to figure this out?

  3. I spent years being concerned with definitions of “indie” in terms of music scenes. Over it. As far as I’m concerned, there’s the megalith publishers and then there’s everyone else. Sure I’d rather get a 2,000 print run with a more prominent indie publisher, but I can handle running e-books off my own indie publishing line too. People who fight over their artistic turf are fighting about the wrong thing.

  4. As always, an interesting and insightful post. It seems that labels are all about marketing (or a perception of marketing). Indie was a way to market a “specialty” small press or what some may think are cross-genre small press. I think authors crave labels because they still believe a certain type of label carries a cachet that will sell more books.

    I have begun to wonder if/when genre labels are going to morph or go away. As publishers (indie, self, or traditional) attempt to get as much of the pie as they can, I’m seeing genre labels no longer being well-defined. Kind of like “low fat” for the food world, it seems that the latest genre flavor of the day/week/year becomes impossibly wide. Paranormal, Urban Fantasy, and Fantasy are three that immediately come to mind. In Romance, the slide between contemporary and women’s fiction has also become more nebulous. When I look at metatags it’s easy to see more and more books tagged as SF, Fantasy, Romance, Suspense, Paranormal. 🙂

    In the past it was scene as a “step up” in the romance world to move from romance to general fiction (i.e., Nora Roberts) even though the book was still clearly a romance. You also saw that in some of the mystery and thriller genres. Do you see a time when instead of genre markets, we will revert to broader categories such as “general fiction” vs “literary fiction” and “adult” vs “YA/Children” as the only labels? Or perhaps simply fiction vs non-fiction. Now that would give a marketer apoplexy. 🙂

    1. I think we’ll always have genre as a helpful modifier, but it’s going to be more like movies. Genre will no longer be the main definition of the flavor of the story.

      With the movies, the main descriptors and divisions are the names of the creators (“Tarantino-esque”). Beyond that, it’s more about the audience (“Tent-pole” “Four quadrant” “family film”). Subject matter is often used in the place of genre too.

    2. I’d hate it if it did. Because I’m pretty picky. I don’t like modern day setting stuff unless you throw in a few wizards or whatnot 😉 Even then, I prefer non-modern day settings. I want to be able to tell instantly when something is fantasy or historical fiction, so I can pick it up. And I really liked it when historical fiction used to label itself Regency when it was Regency. For some people, a genre or subgenre is an instant buy. Right now, for example, since I’m kinda new to it, if it the price is right, Regency is my instant buy.


  5. I started my career writing YA fantasy. This Worldcon I just won a blue ribbon at the art show for my fractals. Try that one for a paradigm shift.

    This month I’ll be writing YA fantasy/metafiction/humor/transmedia/whatever it ends up being labeled.

    Thanks as always for the insightful post.


  6. On some forums, I often see commercially published writers upset with how terms are shifting thanks to self-publishers. They dislike “traditional” applied to their own, and they don’t want self-publishers calling themselves “indie.” At first, I agreed with them, but the more I think about it, the more I think it is fine to use “indie.” Because most self-published authors don’t mean “indie press” but “indie authors.” That’s different, and I don’t get why the small press and the commercially published authors don’t see this.

    You make a good point about straddling different options, traditional, indie, etc. I think in business that always makes sense–have as many streams of income as possible so you don’t rely on just one. I’m looking into ways I can do the same thing myself.

    One final point on genres and knowing your fit. Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of Regency romance because I was finding it hard to find what I wanted in the genre (fantasy) I love. But now, Regency is inching its way into my faves. I don’t think I’d ever write historical anything, because I would get too OCD over the details and accuracy. I like being able to take some details and make it my own instead. But I am considering trying something I never thought I’d try. I’m considering seeing if I can’t write fantasy romance my way. It means I’ll have to do a lot research on genre, but it might be worth it. Your post is an extra push in that direction.

    Anyway, great post as always.


  7. I think from now on I’m going to call myself a “story whisperer”…


    Or “Battle Mage”… I can’t decide.

    And as long as I’m writing and getting paid for it, I don’t really care 🙂

    (But thanks for the well-thought-out article!)

  8. “Actually, the real problem that those long-term independent presses have is that they’re no longer special.”

    I about spit out my tea when I read this! I’m still laughing!

    What I hate about the attitude of some of the independent presses that have been around for so long is that they want “Indie” to mean something different in the book business than it does in other fields.

    “Indie” in music and movies means someone who has set up their own business to produce and release their own works without having to go through the big companies. To control deals, distribution, rights, and protect the creative process. To create a way to get their product out to the masses without artificial gatekepers keeping them out.

    Why should it mean anything different in the book industriy? The answer is: it doesn’t and shouldn’t.

    I’m an Indie, with the business set-up to prove it. I’m a freelancer who writes non-fiction for magazines.

    And I’m proud of it.

    (And maybe later other ‘labels’ will apply, as well. We have so many choices out there in how to distribute our work. Most of all, I want this to continue to be fun.)

  9. I think the definition of writer is changing — it’s becoming more inclusive as the writer’s role expands.

    It’s because the writer has more choices now. Before it was one true path to becoming “An Author” — legacy publishing. Now there are several paths and none are exclusive. An author these days can walk several paths and be sucessful.

    It’s both an exciting time and a scary time, as everything is in flux. It’s going to be wild ride for everyone….


    1. I like this. A lot.

      I’ve felt this is true for some time — even before e-publishing became viable for self-publishers. People make up stories, and they share them in so many ways, but so often it was outside of the system and unrecognized.

      Now, just as we have so many different paths, the people on those different paths have access to each other and to all of the paths.

      It’s exciting.

  10. I always thought of myself as a horror writer and a science fiction writer who dabbled a bit in mystery. Imagine my surprise to find out I’d written a literary story in the Short Story Workshop. And then to write another mainstream story.

    It was a shock to find myself outside my usual genres. Somewhere in the back of my mind I think I believed I wasn’t allowed to do that. I had picked the genres I liked and I was supposed to stay there. But I realized after writing those stories that I had boxed myself in. Why not write a literary story if I wanted? Why not write mainstream, or regular mystery, or nonfiction, or whatever comes out? With this new world of publishing comes new opportunities and new avenues. Now I can’t wait to try something new. Now instead of a _______ writer, I call myself “writer.”

  11. Hi Kris,

    Great post, and I hadn’t read Dean’s yet to see the links. At the top of your post, I was thinking, “The word you’re looking for to describe yourself is just ‘writer’ — anything added is superfluous.” But the fact that you straddle multiple categories isn’t really that surprising to me.

    I’ve been thinking of the industry as four fold, and have an infographic idea in mind…traditional publishing would be upper left quadrant with self-publishing in lower right. He would then use “special” and “independent” to cover the two options in the middle, whereas I tend to think of it as “small press” in upper right and indie in the bottom-right. For me, the difference is that small would be, essentially, full service publishers taht have similar models to that of traditional. However, the “indie” would be a bit more a la carte with a fair amount of diversity in that quadrant.

    Sounds simplistic, and in graphic terms it is:

    Traditional Small Press
    Independent Self-published

    WMG would probably straddle the bottom two in that layout (indie for others, self-pub for you and Dean). However, each of those four areas are slightly different models with different pluses and minuses. Control, of course, figures prominently along with a tradeoff in others helping you. Cashflow too. Access to certain markets. Branding. Etc. At some point I hope to put those + and – on the infographic and circulate for views.

    Why? Because I think it reflects my understanding of what you and Dean convey in a LOT more words Namely that it is about choices. When you go traditional, you’re going to run the gauntlet and you’re going to give up control; when you go self, you don’t have filter barriers but you have to do a lot more yourself in terms of getting it “sell-ready”. Tying it to your contracts discussion, you give up certain things to be in that first box but you gain others.

    I suspect that is what you do with eyes open and end up straddling the groups. Others fall into it blindly and get screwed in one box — they got part of what they wanted, but gave up royalties in perpetuity. Sometimes that’s a trade-off, sometimes it’s just glaringly stupid.

    But it is a working business model to dip your toe into multiple business models, depending on the project. And diversifying your writing portfolio investment at teh same time.

    Or, I’m reading all of it wrong, and we should all just be indentured writing servants! 🙂

    Thanks for great post…


  12. People like labels because it means they belong to a group. People like to belong, and they like to exclude other people. It’s part of our genetic herd instincts. (“Troop” might be better than “herd” since we’re primates, but you get the idea.)

    I just call myself a writer. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the important distinction.

    Since I do both selfpub and tradpub (see my comments in Dean’s post for my definitions thereof) it seems silly to me to call myself only one or the other. It makes more sense to talk about individual projects that way. I have some stories that have only been tradpubbed, and some that have only been selfpubbed, and a bunch that have been done both ways.

    And what is an “independant press” anyway? Is that just a publisher that isn’t owned by another company? If so, it wouldn’t matter how big the press got, it would still be independant. And like Dean said, all us writers who start our own little presses to publish our own work, we’re independant presses too.

    Whole thing is silly. People just like to have something to complain about.

    I love the Ben Jonson quote. Be a writer, not a writer. That’s how you survive in this business anyway, being able to move from one thing to another when the market shifts. The horror genre has still not recovered, poor baby.

  13. As a fledging writer I find it wonderful that there are so many options out there. I started a couple of months ago writing short fiction in the erotic genre. I self published and got a few sales. I wrote a couple more shorts and got more sales. That emboldened me to publish something in the epic fantasy genre. I immediately got hit with bad reviews and came to the realization that my writing skills weren’t quite were they needed to be to be successful in that genre.

    I took a couple of steps back and discovered that there are a ton of markets out there for short science fiction and fantasy stories. So I decided to submit short stories in those markets. When I start getting sales in those markets, I’ll know my skills will have improved and I will be at the level I need to be to compete better as a self published fantasy, science fiction writer.

    In the mean time my erotic fiction sales continue to trickle in and I even recently received a five star review. I feel that gives me the green light to continue to write and publish in that genre and I will continue to do so.
    I guess my point is no matter where you are at in your career as a writer, every writer is different, every genre is different and ever story is different. Writers have to judge what the best approach, to sell their story in the market place. The market place is gigantic and that is great for every writer, no matter where they are at in their careers.

  14. Ah, thanks for a post that doesn’t involve reviews!

    I’ve been working on a new series in a different genre on and off for a couple of years, never making the time to finish it because I wanted to focus on the “Gretchen Galway” romance brand and not spread myself all over the place.

    But I had so much trouble getting excited about my last book (though of course of course it came out perfect, lol) I’ve decided I need to finish that YA fantasy that keeps nagging at me. Even though I’m just getting the ball rolling with the romance novels, getting some fan mail, making some money, I can’t ignore this voice that says, Do This.

    So, practical or not, I’ve dedicated this fall to finishing this first book in the wrong genre. I’m a quarter into it and will have the first draft done by Halloween. I’ve got an editor lined up for December. I’ll probably publish it under a different name, since Gretchen Galway has an erotic romance novella out there and this is more YA.

    If I sound pessimistic about this, I’m not. It may bomb and my new romance fans may forget me, but I feel such a rush when I try this new thing, it has to be the right thing to do.

    After romance and fantasy, maybe I’ll try mystery. And then middle grade. Literary. God knows I’m interested in all of it.

    Here’s to all of us keeping that passion alive.

  15. This article really hit home with me for two reasons…

    1) I am trying a bunch of things and letting it define me, and if I read this correctly, your article is basically saying “That’s ok.”

    This article raises a related question…

    2) We don’t know what we don’t know, so how could we spend any time defining the writer we want to be unless we’ve explored a bit?

    Thank you for the insightful article Kristine.

  16. Great post! It rings very true. I haven’t been writing for very long. It’ll be six years this Feb since I wrote the first paragraph to my YA fantasy. I finished it and it is still waiting for me to come back to it. I still believe in it very much. Right now I’m writing a gay erotic romance. Who knew I would come to this genre but when I look back, it was always there. Even in that first YA I put something in there that I knew would be questioned.
    In the next YA I wrote, I pushed the envelope more and the first thing I knew I had written my first M/M relationship. I wrote another one and again the same thing happened- another M/M relationship and I was explicit.
    I started to get confused as to what I was doing and didn’t have a clue what kind of writer I was and where would I fit in.
    Thank god for blogs like yours , Deans and The Passive Voice where I discovered I wasn’t totally nuts. With this new revelation in publishing I can still write the YA and my erotic just using different pen names. You now can really experinment with your writing and I think that is what a writer has to do.
    Whatever you call yourself is what ever you want.

  17. Great post, Kris. I’m glad it’s under a “business” heading because while it may come off as a “find your bliss” bit of advice, it captures the heart of the business/commercial argument every writer has with him/herself (and maybe even other writers). That being: How do I carve out a career from this crazy writing thing? Or even better: How do I pay my bills with it? Because, really, artistic aspirations aside, that’s what it’s all about.

    One easy answer to the “what kind of writer do I want to be” questions is: A working writer. Working writers get paid, after all. I never knew that going in (or just never thought of it as a potential problem). I started off in my teens wanting to be a novelist, the darker the material, the better. I wrote a bunch of novels and short stories and had a tiny bit of success. But no way was I paying any bills this way. Then in my 20s I went to work in traditional publishing. I continued to write. I met editors. Suddenly I was ghostwriting for the bestselling author of his time. Soon after, I was offered a young adult romance trilogy to ghost (romance?? me??). Later, I was offered a nonfiction Idiot’s Guide to write. What qualified me? The editor knew me, knew I could write, and knew that I was a rabid lover of the subject (fantasy baseball).

    That led to another Idiot’s Guide. That led to a feature assignment from the largest men’s magazine on the planet, Men’s Health. That led to a staff position at Men’s Health. That led to me writing about panic attacks, sex, and money (not in the same articles). That led to essays and humor pieces. When Men’s Health began putting celebrities on the cover in 2003, that led me to become their go-to celeb profiler — and led me to help redefine what a mainstream celebrity profile was (successful people know an awful lot about achievement, it turns out). That led me into the homes of Mark Wahlberg, Jason Statham, Derek Jeter, Anthony Hopkins, and a bunch more. That led to editing and co-authoring some books by some really successful and well-known business and political leaders.

    All that because I wanted to write dark fiction. And because by necessity I had to become versatile enough to write things that make checkwriters write checks. But I’m also right back where I started, too — my novel in progress is so dark I’m giddyl and is based on what I’ve learned hanging out with our best and brightest in Hollywood.

    Many of us are still sitting in front of that computer screen…wondering. Stop wondering. Start digging. Start kicking open your mind. You’ll never know what kind of career — and fun — you could have until you do. So much fun…

    Hope this adds to the conversation,

    Mike Zimmerman

    1. Mike, this is nice breakdown of how your career progressed. I’d love to follow in some of your footsteps. I’ve written several books but have yet to earn enough to make ends meet (and then some), I used to write articles and ebooks for the web as as ghost–but again, no good income. Couldn’t get clients who could afford to pay enough on articles, etc. Now, at square one trying to find paying gigs while I try to resurrect my writing and try to diversify my streams. I’m still hoping to indie publish fiction to build my inventory, but I still have to make it as a working writer in the mean time. I just don’t want to do anything else. All of this is to say, thanks for sharing.

      1. Shaun,

        Thanks. I hear you about writing for the web. Most sites, even those with brand names you’d recognize, really don’t have much in the way of freelance budgets, so the pay is low. One thing I’ve learned the hard way is that writing — all writing — is a volume business. The best advice is still the oldest advice: Finish stuff.

        Another lesson that latches onto that: You never know who’s watching. One of my favorite stories came from an interview I did with actor Josh Duhamel. He started out acting in soaps, which some actors consider to be really low-end. But Josh worked with one of those ancient soap actors who has been on the show for 30+ years. The guy told him, “Always give your best no matter the job, because you never know who will see it.”

        Flash-forward a few years and Duhamel is on the show Las Vegas. He does an episode that was heavier than usual where they explore his character’s past in the first Iraq war. He’s happy with his work. Soon after, he gets a call that Michael Bay wants to talk to him about the first Transformers movie. And that Steven Spielberg’s office just called and wants to talk to him. He’s freaking. So he calls Spielberg’s office and the assistant puts him right through to the Beard himself. Spielberg tells him that he loved him in the episode of Las Vegas, and they want him to play the lead soldier in Transformers.

        Love that story. It’s right up any writer’s alley, especially if you’re doing stories that you may think are small, or trying to sell to markets that seem a little off the grid. Ya never know who might read it…

        Good luck, Shaun.


  18. When I stop by to explore your blog I always find something to think about. Thank you. 😉 Although I’ve been writing for several years, I find that I’m shifting genres. In January that realization would’ve startled me into writer’s block. But since I’ve been reading here regularly (and Dean’s blog, too) I’ve admitted that changing is a sign of personal growth as a writer. Thank you for contributing to my process. Bless you. ~ Aithne

  19. Wonderful post.

    I was thinking about these same things last year (and did a post on figuring out “who am I?” as a writer, ).

    I’ve never been able to color inside the lines. I’ve always been all over the map.

    I tend to use the term “indie” because it’s short and easy to type. I use the term “artisan” because it evokes what I’m doing (i.e. I have a creative agenda, but I don’t do high art).

    But “self” really suits. I am my brand. I feel that my blog and my fiction and my art and everything are all one thing… me.

    You could say, my category is “Gza Gza” – as I make myself into what I am.

    I love this new world of publishing.

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